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Harrison Garey Bagwell Sr.

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Harrison Garey Bagwell Sr.
Born(1913-12-06)December 6, 1913
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA
💀DiedDecember 2, 1973(1973-12-02) (aged 59)
Baton Rouge, LouisianaDecember 2, 1973(1973-12-02) (aged 59)
Resting placeResthaven Gardens of Memory in Baton Rouge
🏡 ResidenceBaton Rouge, Louisiana
🎓 Alma materLouisiana State University
Louisiana State University Law Center
💼 Occupation
🏛️ Political partyRepublican gubernatorial nominee, 1952
👩 Spouse(s)June Sue Ross Bagwell (married 1936-1971, her death)
👶 ChildrenSeven children
👴 👵 Parent(s)Arthur D. and Birdie Harrison Bagwell

Harrison Garey Bagwell Sr. (December 6, 1913 – December 2, 1973),[1] was an attorney and politician in his native Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He is notable as the Republican nominee for governor of Louisiana in 1952; he was only the second Republican to have sought the governorship of Louisiana since 1924.[2]

With the state's passage of a constitution in 1898, which raised barriers to voter registration, most African Americans were disenfranchised and excluded from the political system. As they had comprised the great majority of the Republican Party in the state following emancipation, it was essentially destroyed as a competitive force for decades until the late 1960s and later.


Bagwell was a son of Arthur D. Bagwell (1878-1955), a native of Lincoln Parish, and the former Birdie Mae Harrison (1878-1961), a native of Houma in Terrebonne Parish. The couple died in Oak Grove in West Carroll Parish and they are interred there at Oak Grove Cemetery.[3]

Bagwell attended local segregated schools through high school. He graduated from Louisiana State University and the Louisiana State University Law Center, both of which were also segregated.[2] In 1936, Bagwell married the former June Sue Ross (1915-1971). The couple had seven children together.[2][4]

Political life[edit]

Unusually for his time, Bagwell joined the Republican Party. It was stronger in the northern part of the state but most whites in the state continued to belong to the Democratic Party. It had effectively been a one-party state for most statewide and national elections since the late 19th century, when white Democrats regained control of the state government. They passed a new state constitution in 1898 that effectively disenfranchised most blacks by raising barriers to voter registration and voting. African Americans had constituted the great majority of members of the Louisiana Republican Party.

During the first decades of the 20th century, some white Republicans began to try to build up the party. In 1928, Etienne J. Caire, a businessman from Edgard in St. John the Baptist Parish, polled 4 percent in the gubernatorial election, in his challenge of Huey Pierce Long Jr.[5] In 1952, Bagwell ran as only the second Republican candidate for governor in the 20th century.

In the gubernatorial general election held on April 22, 1952, Bagwell polled 4,958 votes (4 percent) of the vote statewide in a low-turnout contest against the Democrat Robert F. Kennon, a judge from Minden, who received 118,723 (96 percent). Bagwell reached double digits in only three parishes, St. James (13 percent), Iberia (12.5 percent), and his own East Baton Rouge (11.8 percent). In three parishes, Concordia, DeSoto, and Tensas, Bagwell received no votes.[6]

Bagwell's gubernatorial showing was far below the votes secured by Republican US Senatorial candidate Clem S. Clarke in 1948. The Shreveport oilman polled just over 100,000 votes in his challenge of Democratic incumbent Russell B. Long, who won.[7] By 2015, Republicans for the first time held both Senate seats from Louisiana.

Bagwell said that his primary goal in running for governor was to try to establish a competitive two-party system in Louisiana. He said that the state Republican party was being held back by its traditional leaders so that they could maintain their control over the party organization.[8] As the US Representative from Louisiana's 6th congressional district, Bagwell was a delegate to the 1952 Republican National Convention. It met in Chicago and nominated Dwight Eisenhower, with Richard M. Nixon for vice president.[4] Bagwell assisted John Minor Wisdom in making the case for seating the pro-Eisenhower delegation, rather than the pro-Taft delegation favored by the entrenched state party leadership. Because he was successful, they were instrumental in securing the nomination for Eisenhower.[9]

Governor Kennon endorsed the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket. Although it was successful nationally, it lost the Louisiana electoral vote that year. White conservatives in the state were still overwhelmingly Democratic.[10] but would by the 21st century become predominantly Republican.

Bagwell sought a federal judgeship but was not selected by the Eisenhower administration.[2] Along with incoming state party chairman LeRoy Smallenberger of Shreveport, Bagwell served as an alternate delegate to the 1960 Republican National Convention. It met in Chicago and nominated the Nixon-Lodge ticket. George W. Reese Jr., a New Orleans lawyer who challenged Democratic U.S. Senator Allen J. Ellender that year for his seat, was a delegate to the Chicago convention, as was Shreveport Republican Tom Stagg.[11]

In the 1964 presidential election, Barry Goldwater was the first Republican to carry the Deep South, although he lost nearly everywhere else. Bagwell called for an "overhaul" of the state party leadership, arguing that more moderate policies were necessary for broader party success. The more conservative party leaders, including Floyd O. Crawford, the defeated Republican candidate for U.S. representative from Louisiana's 6th congressional district; and Morton Blackwell, later active as a Republican party official in the state of Virginia, criticized Bagwell for his comments: They "seem to come from another world and another era." Crawford and Blackwell said, "if Bagwell wishes to be a liberal, then he should become a Democrat."[12]

Bagwell died in 1973, four days before his 60th birthday. He and his wife, who predeceased him by two years, are interred at Resthaven Gardens of Memory in Baton Rouge.[1] Bagwell's papers, dated 1941 to 1969, which cover his Republican Party activities, are available through the LSU Archives.[13]


Bagwell's namesake son, Harrison Garey "Gary" Bagwell, Jr. (1937-1985), entered the United States Navy during the Vietnam War. He served aboard the transport ship, U.S.S. Caddo Parish. His letters home described the Viet Cong, military operations, and the people and landscape of South Vietnam and Taiwan. His papers are held in the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections of the LSU Archives. There is also a special feature in the archive from the New Orleans Item on the Louisiana Republican Party in 1952.[14]

One of Bagwell and June's younger daughters, Bonnie (Bagwell) Messer (born September 1954), recalled in 2013 that her father had treated the neighborhood children at their home in University Acres each Halloween to hot dogs, chili, and Kool-Aid. On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Bagwell's death, Messer said that when she was a child, "Our house was THE place to go, and he fed everyone. It has been forty years since his last Halloween at our house ... I hope all our neighbors who trick-or-treated at our house will remember him this Halloween and the love he had for Halloween and them."[15]

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  1. 1.0 1.1 "Harrison G. Bagwell". Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Christopher Freeman (formatter) (2006). "Bagwell Collection" (PDF). Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  3. "Birdie Mae Harrison Bagwell". Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Harrison Garey Bagwell". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  5. Milburn E. Calhoun (2008). Louisiana Almanac, 2008-2009. Pelican Publishing Company. p. 511. Retrieved November 29, 2013. Search this book on
  6. Michael J. Dubin. United States Gubernatorial Elections, 1932-1952: The Official Results by State and County. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company. pp. 103–104. ISBN 978-0-7864-7034-1. Retrieved January 6, 2015. Search this book on
  7. Louisiana Secretary of State, U. S. Senate election returns, November 2, 1948
  8. "Republican Boom Likely to Fizzle Out in South", Associated Press in TimesDaily, 25 February 1952.
  9. Joel William Friedman, "Judge Wisdom and the 1952 Republican National Convention: Ensuring Victory for Eisenhower and a Two-Party System for Louisiana", Washington and Lee Law Review, vol. 53, no. 1 (1996), pp. 52, 92.
  10. "LOUISIANA'S CHIEF BACKS EISENHOWER; Gov. Kennon Says General Will End 'Truman Era of Minks, Pay-Offs and Rackets'". The New York Times. September 7, 1952. p. 1. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  11. "Louisiana delegation to the 1960 Republican National Convention". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  12. "Louisiana GOP Factions Clash", Lake Charles American-Press, 13 November 1964. Accessed 2015-01-16 – via open access
  13. "Harrison G. Bagwell Papers". Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  14. "Gary Bagwell Letters". Retrieved January 23, 2015.
  15. Smiley Anders (December 2, 2013). "Mr. Halloween". Baton Rouge Advocate. Archived from the original on January 6, 2015. Retrieved January 6, 2015.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Etienne J. Caire (1928)
Louisiana Republican Party gubernatorial nominee
Succeeded by
Francis Grevemberg (1960)

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